He sues the church to comfort the afflicted

He sues the church to comfort the afflicted

By Milan Simonich, July 9, 2017, Santa Fe New Mexican

Happenstance can change lives. In rare cases, it can even lessen human suffering that’s been unrelenting for 30 or 40 years.

New Mexico is home to one such story. It involves attorney Brad Hall and 68 of his clients. All of these clients initially identified themselves in court documents as John Doe. But they were not faceless people, not to Hall and eventually not to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Since 2012, Hall has obtained financial settlements for 67 of his John Doe clients who said they were molested during childhood by Catholic priests. The other client, John Doe No. 68, a man living in Santa Fe, just filed suit last week against the archdiocese and former priest Jason Sigler, who was a serial predator of boys.

Sigler, now 78, is living on the west side of Albuquerque, where he settled after serving nine years in prison in Michigan for molesting boys at a parish. Six of Hall’s clients say Sigler also sexually abused them while he was assigned to parishes in Northern New Mexico.

Hall deposed Sigler in some of the cases, an exercise in redundancy. Sigler arrived with a criminal attorney at his side and refused to answer any questions on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. By invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege, Sigler protected himself against a return to prison.

 

But his stand didn’t change the outcome of the civil cases. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has settled all the lawsuits brought by Hall’s clients except the one that was filed only days ago.

“The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has never had a single trial. They always settle,” Hall said one recent day.

He said this applies not only to his cases, but to approximately 350 pedophilia lawsuits against Catholic priests. Hall, of Albuquerque, has been the attorney for 68 of the last 73 people to sue the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Hall, 60, said these clients are different from most everyone else with cases in the civil courts.

“Almost 100 percent of these 68 clients aren’t looking for money,” Hall said. “There’s a reason they’re called survivors. They’re still around to bring a lawsuit when so many others have been lost to suicide or alcoholism or drug addiction.”

His respect for his clients seems as limitless as the lives that have been shattered by predatory priests and the church that covered up their crimes.

“When they file a lawsuit, we’re marrying therapeutic recovery with litigation recovery,” Hall said. “I’m proud of them all.”

His advocacy for people who were sexually abused by priests began by coincidence.

In the early 1980s, before Hall was a lawyer, he played in recreational basketball leagues. A friendship he formed on those courts with a man named Clifford Esquibel changed both their lives.

In 2011, some 28 years after they met, Esquibel asked Hall to represent him in a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Esquibel said he was an altar boy in seventh grade when a priest named John George Weisenborn began molesting him at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Albuquerque.

Hall can’t forget what happened after Esquibel left his office after that first consultation. Hall looked out his window and saw Esquibel in agony from discussing abuses that began 45 years earlier, in 1966.

“He fell to his knees on our neighbor’s grass, sick and sobbing,” Hall said.

More victims of molestation by priests hired Hall. Esquibel is one of a handful of the clients who has made his name public. Hall said many others are inclined to do the same. But they hesitate when they consider that their elderly mother or grandmother would learn about what happened at church or at a youth outing all those years ago.

New Mexico became notorious nationally in sex abuse cases involving Catholic priests because it is home to Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order that often was assigned to treat priests who had molested children. Sigler and Weisenborn were among the priests sent to Paraclete, in Jemez Springs, then turned loose on unsuspecting parishes in New Mexico. But, Hall said, about two-thirds of the priests who abused his clients were homegrown and had no connection to Paraclete.

Many of Hall’s clients have sued the church after a word or picture triggered a flood of memories about the abuse they endured. His newest client, a man of 50, was a 9-year-old altar boy at a parish in Las Vegas, N.M., when he said Sigler started molesting him.

Few of the abusive priests in New Mexico were charged with crimes. The human wreckage they were responsible for went unreported as bad priests were shuffled off to Paraclete or to new parishes.

Hall says he has seen progress in one respect. Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester, who’s been in charge of the archdiocese for the last two years, has met with a number of his clients and apologized to them for the harm inflicted by priests.

“The current archbishop is a different sort,” Hall said. “He’s been supportive and helpful.”

Hall has other areas of practice, including civil rights litigation. But he and his associates can stay busy simply with cases of pedophile priests.

“There’s enough work for four or five of us for another four or five years,” he said.

Every settlement is a step forward. The client, shoulders back and head up, is better off than before.

In a way, Hall is doing the work of the church that failed his clients. He comforts the afflicted.

Ringside Seat is a column about New Mexico’s people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at 505-986-3080 or msimonich@sfnewmexican.com.

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